“I'll jump on all kinds of food trends. I'm big into kombucha right now. But as much as I love it, I'm not sure it's going to endure. It might be the quiche of our times.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love
In your new novel, The Signature of All Things, the main character is a botanist. You grew up on a farm—was that an inspiration?
There's a slight biographical similarity. My father was a Christmas-tree farmer, and my mother was a master gardener. So that is in my DNA, though I rejected it in my youth and ran away to New York City as fast as I could. But I've settled here in Frenchtown, New Jersey, and as soon as I got my own house, I became an obsessive gardener. I don't know if there's any other kind of gardener.
If you wrote a cookbook, what would the title be?
Ummm, I should not write a cookbook. If I did, it would be called My Husband's Best Recipes.
What is his specialty?
He makes lamb shanks that people are willing to get on planes to eat. I've never had lamb shanks anywhere to rival his.
Are there any food trends that you embrace?
I'm a joiner, so I'll jump on all kinds of food bandwagons. I'm definitely big into kombucha now. But as much as I love it, I'm not sure it's going to endure. It might be the quiche of our times.
What food fads drive you nuts?
I object to fat-free and sugar-free stuff; I feel that's a violation. My husband, who is Brazilian, continues to be so shocked by all the different kinds of milk that are available here. When he moved here, he would ask, "What's the milk that's just the one that comes out of the cow?" All of the different milks drive him a little bit nuts.
Do you have a favorite junk food?
Oh yeah, a lot of them. I love Big Macs, even though there's no economic or political or social or environmental defense for eating them. I introduced my friend Luca Spaghetti from Eat, Pray, Love to Kentucky Fried Chicken, and now he's hooked. The last time I was in Rome, we got on the subject of KFC. I just remember Luca's face. He looked at me with this almost panic, and he said, "What do they do to that chicken that it's so delicious! How is it so crispy? How is it so beautiful?" And I was like, "I don't think you want to know, Luca."
Years ago, you worked at Coyote Ugly, the dive bar in Manhattan. Were there any drinks you liked to make?
Coyote Ugly is definitely not a place you would go for couture cocktails. I remember my boss there telling me, "If somebody comes in here and asks for a drink that you've never heard of, just try to get the color right. Just ask them what color it's supposed to be. And if someone comes in here and asks for a fancy drink, make it as well as you can, then charge them 40 bucks for it and take them outside and beat them. Because we don't want those kind of people in this bar." So I'm really good at serving shots of bourbon, and I'm really good at pouring beer, and I'm really good at dancing on the bar, and those are not the things that I think are in style right now in the food-and-dining world.
What's more important, the bed or the stove?
Stove. You can sleep on the floor. You can sleep in an easy chair, you can sleep standing up, but food is definitely, obviously, the most important. What kind of night's sleep or sex are you gonna have if you're hungry?